Maria R. Ostrowski, a novelist and poet, is currently working on Cliffwood, an atmospheric mystery set in 1930s New England following the historic Fairfax and Pinthis shipwreck. After receiving a degree in English at the University of Connecticut, Maria assisted in coaching young adults in performance poetry through the Connecticut Youth Poetry Slam Team and has recently taught poetry workshops in Hartford, CT, through the Bushnell’s Partners in Arts and Education program. She lives and writes in Springfield, MA, with a husband who patiently accepts the chaos of a household run by a writer.
You can read her poignant essay "Lionheart" in Letting Go: An Anthology of Attempts - just released in paperback and eBook.
And you can follow her on Twitter @The_RoughDraft
"I am always surprised by how physical writing is – the agitation I feel in my body when I’ve got to get something out, that warm whiskey rush when I’m on a roll, and the fevered pacing and note-taking when I’m trying to figure out a problem." Maria R. Ostrowski
Letting Go is an anthology of true stories. As a writer of fiction, did you find it harder to write a nonfiction story?
Yes. Fiction gives me distance and a powerful escape that I’ve used throughout my life as a survival tool, a passionate type of dissociation. With fiction I can delve into my most raw and painful places behind the veil of a beloved character.
Writing “Lionheart” was challenging. This story reveals parts of my life that I carried, locked up in separate boxes deep inside me for years. I put them away. Buried them. Or so I thought. But working on this essay forced me to look at all of these experiences and weave some together as part of my personal history. I felt exposed and vulnerable, reliving painful moments of loss and fear, which became a physical experience at times with moments of anxiety and sorrow at seeing these truths staring back at me in black and white. But when I finished the final draft, I felt a sense of peace, and I also found that with this nonfiction piece, there wasn’t really an ending for me, rather a beginning, and that was a really hopeful and positive takeaway.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I love what my characters reveal to me about the world in which I live. I learn from them and they’ve helped me reconcile questions in my soul. Writing, whether fiction, nonfiction or poetry, provides clarity. I may never understand why something happened, but writing helps me accept that it did happen. I’ve found peace in that.
What’s the hardest part about writing for you?
Every time I write, I approach the page with respectful fear as much as joy, which for me is the hardest part of writing. Fear can be both exhilarating and crippling, and the challenge is to fight the flight instinct and distract myself and keep my mind focused on those vulnerable, raw places inside. This takes courage and perseverance.
How much time each week do you devote to writing?
I write every day. When I left my marketing position to write full time, I kept my work hours, beginning at 8:00 a.m. and ending anywhere between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. During the work day, I write for an hour or two and then do research for a couple hours and then back to writing. The structure helps me stay focused, but it is difficult to set the work down. I’m never away from the novel. It’s something I work on to stay present with those I love.
What are you working on?
I am working on the third draft of my novel, Cliffwood, an atmospheric mystery and romantic suspense set in 1930s New England at the fictional Cliffwood College, following the historic Fairfax and Pinthis shipwreck that took the lives of 50 people in the Massachusetts Bay.
After my husband, working on this novel is the love of my life!
What has been the most surprising about learning your craft?
I am always surprised by how physical writing is – the agitation I feel in my body when I’ve got to get something out, that warm whiskey rush when I’m on a roll, and the fevered pacing and note-taking when I’m trying to figure out a problem. It’s a sickness and a passion.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I can only offer what helps me stick to it, and that’s intense exercise. I believe that writing and rewriting requires courage and perseverance. When I conquer a long, vigorous workout at the end of the day, not only do I feel strong physically, but I also feel a sense of accomplishment. It clears my mind and gets me ready to tackle the manuscript again, and again, and again . . .
Do you think workshops have helped you become a better writer?
This past July, I attended the Peripatetic Writer’s Workshop and Retreat in Woodstock NY, and when I left, I felt this particular workshop helped me become a better writer. The mentorship from the faculty, the writing exercises, discussions about the craft, and the feedback from other writers sparked creativity and provided a wonderful sense of community.
Any writers you like to read to inspire you to write (or if you're blocked?)
Daphne du Maurier, Colette, Wilkie Collins, Jack Kerouac, Evelyn Waugh, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald . . . are just a few that always inspire me, but lately I’ve also been finding children’s books to be inspiring and refreshing. I’m not studying them, just enjoying the simple, elegant stories and lovely illustrations. In particular, I enjoy The Lion and The Bird by Marianne Dubuc and The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.
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